In the days after Hurricane Harvey in late August, things were looking bad in Dayton, Texas, a small town about 35 miles northeast of Houston.
Like all of its residents, Paul Newton, Scoutmaster of Dayton Troop 8, had a lot to worry about. Dayton is near the Trinity River, which can flood days after a major storm as the water builds and builds from rainfall north of town.
“We were at a point where most of the rains had passed by, but there was a lot of flooding going on,” Newton says. “Things were bad.”
And there in the middle of it all was Troop 8, one of the biggest units in the district. Troop 8 is a boy-led troop, and Newton wanted to see how the boys would handle it.
“My wife was like, ‘Aren’t y’all going to do something?’ ” Newton says. “And I said, ‘Just wait.’ ”
Turns out, Newton was right.
“It probably wasn’t more than an hour after she said that that I got a phone call from Marshall,” he says.
Marshall Wells, senior patrol leader, was on this day a true Scout in action. Marshall had heard people who had evacuated their homes were gathering in nearby Kenefick Civic Center in Kenefick, Texas, where they would hopefully get some basic supplies to keep them as comfortable as possible.
“I immediately thought of calling our Scoutmaster and told him what was going on,” Marshall says. “And we called the patrol leaders, and the patrol leaders got in contact with the rest of the troop and anyone who was able to go there.”
For hours, truck after truck pulled up to the civic center to drop off toiletries, blankets, pillows, food, water and baby supplies. And for hours, the Scouts of Troop 8 were there to unload and organize it all.
“We basically stayed there until the trucks stopped coming,” Newton says.
LDS Units Rally in Florida
Many weeks after Hurricane Irma hit in September, fallen trees still littered neighborhoods in South Florida.
It was heartbreaking labor for families who were already mentally distraught and physically exhausted, but it was the perfect job for about 10 Scout units from the Boynton Beach Florida Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For three weekends in a row, the Scouts camped overnight and worked during the day.
“They were happy,” says Debora Bottaro Souza Gilmore, the Boynton Beach Stake public affairs director. “They were all working. It was really, really, really cool to see. They felt great that they were impacting other people’s lives with their service.”
To make sure no one entered a dangerous area, each work crew had a chief who would survey the damage and decide whether the site was appropriate for youth to work on.
The Scouts only entered areas where there were no contaminated materials present.
“When we help each other through these difficult times, we all grow in the process.” Gilmore says. “It is a blessing to be able to lighten another’s burdens as we link arms together. Everyone is happier when united in selfless service.”
Whatever Needed to be Done
Dawn Kotalik is an adult volunteer with Troop 1772 in The Woodlands, Texas, just north of Houston. She has three sons in the troop, and as soon as Harvey passed, they were champing at the bit to help out.
Twelve-year-old Rafe, in particular, had just earned multiple aquatics-related merit badges and awards. He was eager to assist with water rescues, a dangerous proposition even for a highly trained youth.
“I said, ‘Let’s think about other skills you have,’ ” Kotalik says. “ ‘How else do you think we can help?’ ”
The answer, it turns out, was that they could do plenty.
First, the Scouts used their cooking skills to make food for 911 dispatchers who had been unable to take even the shortest break due to the overwhelming volume of calls.
Next, they volunteered at a Red Cross shelter, taking out trash, doing laundry, cleaning and basically performing any grunt work needed.
Along with other members of Troop 1772, they spent a lot of time providing comfort to one member of their troop whose home had flooded to the roof.
At one point, they would just walk down the street and ask people what kind of supplies they needed. Then they’d go find those supplies.
They were particularly affected by the number of children they met who had lost all their toys. So they collected and handed out gently used toys.
“This little girl had lost everything in the flood, so we gave her an American Girl doll,” Rafe says. “She almost cried, and then she said, ‘Thank you very much.’
“It’s the Scout motto: Do a Good Turn daily.”
Saving Memories in Texas
Garrett Harrison, a 14-year-old Scout from Troop 41 in Tomball, Texas, was devastated by the damage in his community after Hurricane Harvey.
“It was destruction everywhere,” Garrett says. “When we first started driving around, we saw the water lines on the houses that were up above the windows and doors. There were piles and piles of sheetrock in the yards. Debris was everywhere.
“It was heartbreaking to see.”
But he also knew this was no time for a Scout to sit around and mope. It was time to get to work.
“We are a troop with 60 Scouts, but we weren’t doing anything yet,” he says. “The first email I sent asked if anyone from our troop needed help. Thankfully, they didn’t.
“After that, I didn’t have to do much to get our guys fired up. I just gave them the idea, and they all ran with it.”
A Scout is helpful, but a Scout is also smart. And cautious. The group was careful not to enter any unsafe areas.
“I went to churches with websites where you could sign up to work,” says Garrett. “We wanted to do what we could do to get these homeowners back to normal.”
After putting in about 380 service hours as a troop, it was the last job that made the biggest impression. The boys came across an old Pinewood Derby car, damaged — but not destroyed.
Turns out it belonged to the homeowner’s son, who had since moved out to join the military and was serving overseas at the time.
“When we gave [the homeowner] this completely soaked Pinewood Derby car, she just started to cry,” Garrett says. “It showed that we weren’t just working out there for no reason.
“It made me really proud to be a Scout.”
When Disaster Strikes
In the immediate aftermath of hurricanes such as Harvey, Irma and Maria, there’s a fine line between being helpful and getting in the way.
In dangerous conditions, it’s best to let first responders do their jobs without interference from volunteers. Instead, contact a local church or charities such as the American Red Cross or the Salvation Army, and find out what kind of help they need.
Enter affected areas only when safety can be guaranteed.
Potential hazards include:
Electricity. Downed power lines and wet appliances should be considered dangerous until you know there is no electricity. If the lights are on in a building, there is a chance of electrical exposure.
Infections. Floodwater often contains infectious germs. Make sure your vaccinations are up to date, especially for tetanus. Wash and disinfect your hands frequently.
Mosquitoes. Pools of standing water are breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Not only are they annoying, but they can also carry dangerous diseases. Use insect repellent.
Hazardous materials. Floodwater could be contaminated by chemicals that might have been moved far from their original location.
Animals. Pets and other wildlife displaced by floods might be extremely stressed and could behave aggressively. Do not approach.